One of my all time favorite activities is hiking. I love the treasure hunt feel of the trail…the path goes up around the bend, under a tree canopy, over a rise – you never quite know what you’re going to stumble upon next (ok, bad metaphor in my case, maybe).
Back when I was younger, the girl’s dad, Ken, and I used to go backpacking. I have the most wonderful memories of fly fishing, and setting up the tent in the wind. We once hiked through a bog up at Army Pass in the Sierra. At the time, we were MISERABLE but it remains one of our favorite stories to recount together.
When the girls were in their teens, their senior girl scout troop did a camp out called Tambu up at Tejon Pass. The girl scouts seldom do things that don’t have a catchy Indian sounding moniker and some companion songs that sound more like dirges than Kumbaya.
Anyway, girl scouts are also big on competition, and this particular annual camp out was a biggie. The troops got points if ALL the members of each troop backpacked the one mile in to camp. Well, now we’re talking my language. Piece of cake.
I hadn’t worn a pack in years ~ I’d been raising children! I took my ancient pack out of the old cabinet in the garage, aired it out, threw away some vintage moleskin, an old band aid, some Top Ramen and some freeze dried tomato beef stew; and grinned like an old tar. I was ready to hit the high seas of hiking again.
This was a short hike, only one mile, down hill, on a well graded road. I had taken on Monarch Pass, what was this? Phhhttt. The years had taken it’s toll on my packing abilities (not a suitcase, that I could teach a class on), but hey, how hard could it be? So I rolled up my hairbrush into a t-shirt, smashed a pair of jeans and a some underwear in, and hooked on a water bottle. Strap on my down bag, and I’m good to go.
We get to the marshaling area and count off. It’s kind of cold; there are tired little patches of ice in bleak drifts by the side of the road and some lame puddles. We head off as a group down the hill. I haven’t worn my hiking boots since the last time I used my pack, so they’re feeling a little stiff. I also did not adjust my pack to my body frame, I mean come on, how much could I have changed over 18 years? I’m still within 10 lbs of my 25 year old self.
By the time we get about 1/4 of a mile into it, I’m not singing the ‘ol scout songs with quite as much gusto. By 1/2 a mile I’m starting to mumble and curse my previous vigor under my breath. By the time we hit 3/4 of a mile I’m glowering at the girls, the trees, the mud, my boots, anything that is glower worthy. By the time we hit camp I am flat out grumpy and wondering if anyone brought the fixings for martinis and separately considering why I ever thought this backpacking thing was so damn great.
We set up tents, whip up some hobo packs, sing some songs, clean up, hit the hay. I’m sharing a small tent with another leader. As I zip into my mummy bag I’m contemplating that this thing is rated to -10 degrees. Does down lose warming ability as it sits stuffed into an airless bag for a year? There is no way it’s going to be -10…I’ll be fine.
I’m trying to warm up and sleep, but man-o-man does my body feel weird. My feet feel like they are attached to my legs at a wrong angle and my hips feel like they are connected at a different cant. My back hurts and I’m COLD. The weather is definitely chilling up here in the mountains.
When I awaken at dawn, I’m buried in a down sleeping bag, wearing two girl scout sweatshirts, two pairs of socks, sweat pants and wrapped in a Hefty garbage bag. A vague memory of clawing through my pack to find anything that will warm me emerges. I start to cry. I feel like such a sorry ass and useless back packer, let alone any kind of example for my girls.
They are still sleeping as I cajole myself with the miserable humor of all this. I wipe my now frozen tears, get a cup of coffee, pack up to go home (no way am I spending the whole weekend here!), donate my Hefty bag to the other leader and swear off camping forever.
In retrospect, there was one component I hadn’t factored in because I didn’t know it was coming along with me, let alone everywhere I was going from then on. My MS companion was still a secret to me then. I will tell you one thing, that weekend sure hammered home the upside to a 5 star hotel!
November 7, 2009
La Crescenta, CA